It’s getting more and more popular for service providers, therapist, counselors, even those who merely fancy themselves spiritual to say some version of: “You have everything you need already inside of you.”
I think—for those who are well meaning, anyway—the goal is empowerment, an attempt to eschew paternalism or to validate and center the other person’s experience as a way to remedy the colonialism of the mental-health industry. Maybe it’s the pendulum swinging away from the unsolicited advice.
Modern society forces individuals to define their own identity rather than rely on relationships or community for identity formation. This breaks a long tradition of communally-shaped identity formation all around the world (my post next month will go into this much more deeply). So it’s hard not to go along with such powerful trends, especially when they’re also mostly invisible.
But it’s highly contradictory for the mental health industry to be promoting this idea. The industry’s entire business model depends on external elements—medication and “therapy” provided by another person. If we have everything we need, then we shouldn’t need their most-often prescribed tools, right? Of course we don’t need them, but it’s not because we have everything we need already inside us.
In terms of impact, telling someone they have all they need inside them already is extremely gaslighting. It is spiritual bypassing and victim-blaming of the highest order and it needs to desist immediately.
It isn’t simply that I personally do not feel empowered but, rather, dismissed and demeaned by such absolute nonsense. It’s that it serves our abusive, extractive-capitalism culture for people to believe that everything each person needs is inside each of them. How convenient! If each person already has what they need, then we (who already have way more than we need) not only can continue taking more than our fair share, but we can feel completely free to do so, since everyone already has what they need already! We don’t need to provide for anyone!
The only thing people actually need is to change their thinking around their problems—real, material problems are actually manifestations of spiritual disorder in their minds and souls! Once that’s cleared up, their circumstances will magically improve. The rest of us can continue to do nothing about the lethal systems that enrich us—and cause unrelenting material suffering and emotional distress to those less fortunate. None of the systems need to change at all—individuals just need to work harder at utilizing the resources they have, which is everything they already need.
What a wild world we live in: despite all evidence to the contrary—the tents, encampments, and makeshift shelters exploding in every neighborhood of my city, all belonging to people who have been kicked out of actual housing by capitalism and now COVID; the amount of chronic medical conditions skyrocketing since even before the pandemic; ditto the rates of loneliness, isolation, and suicide; ad infinitum—apparently, everyone already has everything they need!
Either a flimsy tent or cardboard fort under a highway overpass counts as “housing” now (as long as someone else has to live there) or people apparently don’t need adequate housing. Either human beings don’t need a clean biosphere and stable climate or they can somehow find those sorts of things inside themselves!
Perhaps I’m taking the word “everything” too literally; all right, then: either human beings can flourish completely on their own (even though the prison-industrial complex utilizes solitary confinement as a punishment) and the emotional pain they’re in isn’t serious (even though the brain registers physical pain and emotional pain in the same way). Or human beings can provide for all of their relational needs themselves—except hearing voices, talking to oneself, or dividing oneself up in order to have a relationship with oneself are all listed as symptoms of various diagnoses in the DSM, which the majority of the culture still believes in and which therapist/social workers/mental-health counselors are trained to believe is a valid compendium of ways to identify how this imaginary thing called “mental illness” presents in their “clients.”
We are connected. We do not need more ways to abdicate relationship and our responsibility to each other. We have a created a society that doesn’t even ignore people who try to live out their responsibility to their fellow human beings; our society actively shames people for acting in any way other than rabidly individualistically.
For those who are sincerely well meaning when they tell people that they have everything they need already inside of them, could you, in good conscience (which I’m assuming you have by virtue of being sincerely well-meaning), walk up to one of the people living in a tent being shunned, judged, or ignored and tell them they already have everything they need inside of them? If so, everything inside of me wants to come up all over the whole outside of you.
Even if it weren’t victim-blaming, and even if it didn’t uphold the capitalist structures and institutions that currently seek to make us into multiple streams of perpetual income for themselves at whatever cost to us, “you have everything you need” is deeply ableist. It assumes a uniform emotional, physical, intellectual, and social standard that all humans either already meet or can and should meet.
And it’s evidence of our culture’s incredible discomfort with and alienation from emotions. By saying, “you have everything you need already inside of you,” you are actually saying, “I either don’t know how or cannot be inconvenienced by your needs and do not want to deal with my own feelings of discomfort or annoyance or helplessness in the face of your needs.”
I have a lot inside me that I’m able to use for good (and a lot that expresses in not-so-good ways, of course). I am capable, most of the time, to self-regulate and I am able to meet my basic needs a large portion of the time, though not always (hence the ableism discussion above), and our culture makes me think twice about admitting such a thing in print for the public to critique and evaluate as if they are neutral parties.
But I do not have everything I need, nor am I working on self development or growth such that I will at some point ever have everything I need inside me. What I do have, in case it’s not obvious, is rage and nearly all-consuming dread. There is nothing about our social safety net, such as it is, that reassures me that I’m not next in line for a tent and a corner of sidewalk.
While self-care is totally insufficient (we do not already have everything we need), I don’t have a lot of confidence in “collective care” at this point, either. Whatever semblance of collective care we currently have does not provide for everyone’s needs that they have by virtue of being human.
My experience, as someone who lives in this culture, is that it takes more work than I have the resources and energy to do on a continual basis just to maintain basic levels of empathy. Others may be doing better, but, as I’ve written previously, our culture is abusive, and the nature of the abuse our culture inflicts upon us is such that it disconnects us, desensitizes us to each other’s needs as well as our own, and hypnotizes us into believing that we’re able to do life on our own.
And yet, I maintain the position that we are connected, for better or for worse, in a way we cannot avoid. Therefore, it’s healthier to figure out how to be with each other and care for each other than continue to engage in the destructive lie that we already have what we need inside ourselves.
And at this point, those feelings are appropriate. We have created quite the stunning shitshow for ourselves on this planet: massive class inequality, global economic systems that wantonly destroy all life-support systems while wasting needed resources at staggering rates despite clear warnings, structural oppression that often seems undismantleable, political configurations that enshrine criminal practices and greed… you live on planet Earth, I don’t need to go on.
I don’t want to meet the person who has everything they need inside themselves to handle straits so dire it’s nearly impossible to write satire anymore because that would indicate horrific disconnection from what’s actually going on.
Meditating or deep breathing or yoga or self-care or however else one accesses what’s inside of them is not concrete action that would bring millions of human beings healthy food, clean water, safe shelter, or a consistent sense of belonging—none of which they can find in themselves no matter how hard they look or how long they sit in silence with their legs crossed and palms on their knees. Going inside for what you need, in the face of the tome of catastrophes humanity is facing, is, from my vantage point, no more than denial.
The scope of the “everything” in the sentiment makes no difference. Whether personal or global needs, we do not have everything we need inside of us. We are not superheroes, despite our culture’s encouragement to wear things like sleep deprivation as a badge of honor and to call self-abuse “self-discipline” and to substitute busyness for significance and meaning.
We are, despite all forces striving to make it otherwise, human. And human beings, as evidenced by our biology (we come wired to develop in accordance and response to our relational, physical, emotional and cultural environments), by definition do not have everything they need inside of them already and are, for better or (and?) worse, reliant on others from womb to tomb.
Not only that, but so many of us—and a rapidly increasing number due to the pandemic—don’t have everything we need period. No amount of emotional resilience or inner resourcing will demolish the active powers upholding systems that thrive on poverty, inequality and, perhaps most importantly, division, isolation, and loneliness.
Believing that we each have everything we need inside of ourselves keeps us from realizing our dependence on each other and also how much more we could accomplish if we stopped attempting the impossible task of trying to do everything for ourselves. If we stopped trying to individually meet our own needs and dropped the belief that relying on others in any way is codependency (which the mental-health industry has convinced the majority of the public is true), we’d find each other again. We would not have to rely on systems that would only stop oppressing those who don’t benefit from them if it ever became more profitable to do so. If we came together in such a way, we’d waste fewer resources because we’d share.
We’d be able to produce more of what everyone needs because we’d be able to calibrate our production to our actual needs instead of what the current extractive systems manipulate us into believing we need. These systems would have us believe we don’t need anything outside of ourselves while they are completely fine taking as much from us as possible. They are not our friends.
“You have everything you need already inside you” is yet one more way to keep people separated and, thus, disempowered. Let’s stop the spread of this ridiculous idea and start prioritizing our connections to each other. The sooner we own this need, the easier it will be to walk away from/boycott/otherwise refuse to participate in systems that exploit, oppress and divide us for their obscene amounts of profit—which, currently, are all of the systems running/destroying the world.
None of us already has everything inside of us that we need, and there is nothing at all wrong with any of us. By virtue of being human, which is not dangerous or inadequate or wrong as the current ideologies would have us believe, we need other people in both small and substantial ways, no matter how good we are at “resourcing” ourselves from the inside.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.